Lloyd Waters: Teachers play hooky, students deserve better

September 23, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

I remember one time when I was in sixth grade at the old Dargan School, I had a major role in a school program. I decided to play hooky on that day because I had not remembered my lines, so I told my grandmother I was sick.  She told me to stay in bed.

It wasn’t too long after our conversation that there was a knock at the door. Principal Middlecamp had come down to my house to tell my grandmother that I had a major part in the school program and I was needed at school.

The rest of the story is history. I gave my worst theatrical performance ever, and Principal Middlecamp won the day by securing my presence.

Principal Middlecamp would never play hooky or go on strike.  He seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of his students.

Unlike those teachers of old, his modern-day peers in Chicago believed it necessary to go on strike. Playing hooky was not an issue to them.

Some 26,000 teachers went on strike and about 350,000 students were affected.

What were the issues really?

One issue, as always, was related to pay. The average salary for a Chicago school teacher is $76,000. When the mayor took office last year, he was confronted with a $700 million school district deficit.

Sound familiar?

To address this problem, he vacated the 4 percent proposed pay raise for teachers and offered 2 percent instead.

Many teachers unions would have you believe that more pay results in a better education for your kids. I’m not convinced, are you?

Another major issue related to the stalemate was the concept of “teacher evaluations.” Teachers were evaluated based on the performance of their students on certain tests.

The union believed that this process was unfair, too, because many of the students come from low-income households where parents do not support or encourage their kids in education. The result is that those kids do not do well on these tests, and their progress in school is not as good as those more affluent students.

Chicago’s graduation rate is just over 50 percent.

Should test scores then be used to evaluate teachers?

In some systems (Atlanta and the District of Columbia) where test scores have been used to evaluate teachers, there have been numerous allegations of cheating on these tests to promote better scores.

If one’s livelihood is affected by the test scores of a student, it appears, at least in some districts, that scores might have been changed to influence a teacher’s rating.

If a student’s test score is not a tool that can be used for the evaluation of a teacher’s performance, then what is?

How would you rate the effectiveness of a teacher?

Perhaps the employee union would prefer that the teacher’s performance not be measured at all, and those low-income kids be tossed to the winds because of their social circumstances.

That hardly seems like a realistic objective.

Does the teachers union support “tenure” for all teachers regardless of performance? Would they have you believe that all 26,000 teachers, especially those with tenure, are performing satisfactorily?

Another issue is one of seniority.

If you were in charge of the education system, would you keep a younger, more energetic teacher who gets better results in regard to educating your child? Or would you keep a more senior and tenured teacher who is not performing as well  and fails to achieve equal academic results if all other factors are the same?

Chicago’s problems with education are not unique. Many school systems are confronting similar dilemmas.

Whether resolving the teacher issues in Chicago will produce a better education system remains to be seen.

But one thing is for certain. There seems to be a lot of room for improvement in the classroom.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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